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Boris Johnson has admitted that his government could have handled the coronavirus crisis differently, as he said there were “open questions” over the timing of his decision to lock down the country.

The global pandemic was poorly understood in its early stages, the prime minister said.

Asked whether lockdown had come too late, he said: “When you listen to the scientists, the questions that you’ve just asked are actually very open questions as far as they are concerned.

“This was something that was new, that we didn’t understand in the way that we would have liked in the first few weeks and months, and … the single thing that we didn’t see at the beginning was the extent to which it was being transmitted asymptomatically from person to person,” he said in an interview with the BBC.

In a cautious assessment, he added: “I think it’s fair to say that there are things that we need to learn about how we handled it in the early stages.” He insisted that ministers had “stuck like glue” to the advice of scientific experts.

But asked if that advice could have been wrong, he said: “Maybe there were things we could have done differently.” Mr Johnson has agreed to hold a public inquiry into his government’s handling of the pandemic. However, he insists it cannot be held now because the country has to stay focused on the fight against Covid-19. Initial responses to an urgent independent cross-party inquiry into what lessons ministers can learn warn of a lack of personal protective equipment and inadequate testing.

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